Boston Red Sox: 18-20 (5/18-5/20)
The Sawx, as Michael Wilbon is so fond of calling them, are coming to town in last place in the AL East. In many ways they have been a mirror image of the Phillies. Riding high expectations, losing key players to injury, all while an improved division leap frogs ahead of them in the standings. One major difference between the two clubs is that the Red Sox are dealing with a new manager in Bobby Valentine. The one time Mets skipper has come in trying to rule with an iron fist. This tactic may work with high school kids, but the unruly lot in bean-town doesn’t appear to be responding too well. It may have taken 6 weeks, but Bobby V may finally be learning this lesson. During the latest drama, which involved Josh Beckett golfing before a start in which he got shellacked, Valentine responded simply by saying, “I’ve never seen a pitcher get hurt playing golf,”. Clearly Valentine has never seen me with a golf club. Many fans didn’t take Beckett’s leisure activity nearly as well, causing them to call for his head! (or a trade). Whether Bobby V plays good cop or bad cop, his seat is going to get much hotter if the team remains in last place.
Player to Watch: 3B Will Middlebrooks
Will Middlebrooks is the young third baseman the Phillies have been trying to find since Scott Rolen. The top prospect for the Sox got his opportunity with Kevin Youkilis battling injuries, and he has not disappointed. He has shown great power from the right side for a kid his age, and has played a solid third base. But make no mistake, he is in Boston because of his bat. At 6′ 4” 200 lbs Middlebrooks could easily turn into a 30 homer guy, and could reek havoc on the Green Monster for years to come. The Red Sox are quietly embracing a youth movement with Middlebrooks at third, Felix Doubronte on the hill, and Andrew Bailey closing. This is the one upside for a team with so many key players lost to injuries; it gives the youngsters a chance to prove their mettle. The Phillies would be wise to give young William a hefty dose of breaking stuff this weekend.
Most Hated Red Sox: SP Josh Beckett
I seriously doubt there are many players in the league that like Josh Beckett. Golf-gate is just the latest incident in a long history of friction and stubborn behavior from Beckett that has made him so well loved (sarcasm). Josh and the Phillies go way back, to his days with the Marlins when he was a lights out strike out machine. He has the rings to prove it, but the Phightins have had their fair share of success against him as well. The key with Beckett has always been getting under his skin. Not in a gross Alien kind of way, but frustrating the pitcher and causing him to lose his command. It will be fun to see the match up of Cliff Lee and Beckett on Sunday as both pitchers have a lot of familiarity with their opponents, which is rare for an inter-league game. My only wish for Sunday is that all Phillies fans do their part to rile up Beckett’s, and be sure to bring a lot of golf clubs (for heckling purposes only).
Fansided Perspective: Derek from Bosox Injection was kind enough shed light on all my queries regarding Red Sox nation.
1) Can we quash the internet rumor of Youkilis to the Phillies, or is there some fact behind the fiction?
There could be some fact behind it, although I don’t know how much based on what Boston would get in return. I recently did a post asking the question if Joe Blanton is worth trading Kevin Youkilis for. Short answer in my opinion is no. The Sox don’t need a 31-year old pitcher who’s set for free-agency and based on history is expected to regress. Throw in the fact that many feel Blanton would get shelled in the ferocious AL East and this deal would be a tough one to swallow. It’s likely Youkilis does get dealt and Philly is an option, but based on what Boston needs, the Phils aren’t likely to part ways with. Of course if Cole Hamels is available in July then it would take more than Youk to pull the deal off and given the Phils would part ways with Hamels signaling a small fire sale, it’s unlikely they’d take on a 33-year old who’s body is breaking down. Prospects would be the return of choice and the Red Sox can’t afford to deplete their farm system anymore. So while the deal is always a possibility, I don’t see it happening.
2) Are the fans warming up to Bobby Valentine at all after the team’s awful first month?
There is still a mixed bag of emotion when it comes to Bobby V. Some realize that the players need to be held more accountable for their actions on and off the field and others want Bobby fired tomorrow. When you think about it, Bobby came with a knife to a gun fight. He was brought into an organization that doesn’t let the GM make the final decisions on some situations, including the manager role. The players are still affected by what happened last September and Bobby is having a hard time making baseball the focus. While he did open his mouth and throw Youkilis under the bus, he learnt real quick that the players are running this team and that is a recipe for disaster in my mind. He has made some questionable decisions, especially early in the year with the bullpen and who to bring in at certain times of the game and he most definitely has left his starters in a little too long. It’s almost as though the game speeds up in the 7th and 8th inning and he can’t keep up. This could be due to a 10-year absence from the majors and he may recover from it as the season goes on. But to say it’s all his fault is not fair when you have so much talent on this team. The players need to step up and lead by example.
3) What bothers the team more, golf between starts or beer in the clubhouse?
Right now it’s the golfing. Beckett spit in the face of Red Sox Nation with what is being titled “golf gate” and many want him traded. Now we learn that management may have been behind the whole ordeal trying to make room for Aaron Cook’s start. They’ve changed their stance on the situation making the whole organization shady with their actions. The beer and chicken scandal rocked the club but it was over the winter and by the time February rolled around it was still a topic of discussion, but the focus quickly turned to on the field, as it should. When this team is struggling all the side headlines become major news and this is no different. With the current five-game winning streak the talk actually shifted back to baseball which was a nice relief of all the BS off the field. As a Phillies fan I’m sure you can appreciate the rabid fan base.
Washington Nationals: 23-15 (5/21-5/23)
The Nats and Phillies are developing quite the heated rivalry this year. The key ingredient being that the Nats are finally competitive. Throw in a case of younger brother syndrome and we have ourselves an entertaining battle of both fans and players. The two biggest story lines surrounding the Nationals has been the emergence of their young pitching and the arrival of Bryce Harper. The young phenom brings a rare brand of intensity that borders on insanity. He’s already bloodied himself in a game after throwing his bat in frustration . Davey Johnson would be wise to give young Bryce a chill pill before he really hurts himself, but his relentless motor is what makes him special (and hated). Harper will get his first dose of Philadelphia in the series, and I’m sure fans are already making their signs and practicing their jeers. Welcome to the city of brotherly love Bryce.